Recognizing the Economic Contribution of Women Isn’t Feminism, It’s Fact.

Originally published by the Guardian Development Professionals Network, October 6, 2014.

Many development programs do not sufficiently factor in gender. Here’s how to do things differently.

Despite the role that girls and women play in driving economic growth being widely acknowledged, it seems in practice, development programmers haven’t kept pace.

There are a few reasons why, and they often start at the project level. First, assumptions around ‘gender’ can vary dramatically. When development staff hear the word ‘gender’, what comes to mind first is: ‘feminism’ or ‘women’s equality’ with few seeing gender as relational: men, women, girls, boys, households and how they live and work.

Second, gender-specific project targets are often set without a framework, strategy or budget to achieve them. Third, internal communication from gender specialists tends to overemphasize the social and moral case for gender inclusion, but fails to explore or promote the concrete, economic case; thus missing the chance to make it relevant and engaging to the people whose job it is to implement.

At Making Cents International, we’ve tried to think about how to provide real economic opportunities in our programs for women and adolescent girls and have learned some important lessons. These can be distilled down to these key principles that can serve as a guide for gender inclusion.

Involve your project staff when developing gender strategies

Policies are good, but a punitive, top-down, approach to inclusion cannot be sustained; instead, understand a project staff’s day-to-day work, identify incentives for their buy-in and their manager’s buy-in. Involve staff in defining what ‘gender’ means to them. Conduct field visits and engage affected communities in the discussions. These discussions can reveal insights that can broaden the scope and relevance of gender and is an inclusive process that becomes much more powerful and real. And above all else, do include women and girls from the start.

Make it possible for women and girls in engage in local economies

Women and girls often have limited access to and control over resources, impeding their ability to participate in local economies and value chains. To address gender constraints and create more equitable opportunities for their active participation, it is important to help them create value within existing activities, such as diversification of agricultural crops, like planting cassava that can be harvested and sold while the rice is growing. Identify new value chain activities for which they are uniquely positioned based on their skills and interests, for example food processing, which is most often performed by women.

Recognize that gender inclusion is a process

Gender inclusion cannot simply be measured at the end of the project if meaningful results are desired, nor can transformation be achieved by passively promoting gender inclusion only during ptoject implementation. Doing so fails to account for the pervasive impact of gender on the optimal timing, sequencing, location, and even seasonality of interventions. Women and girls must be involved in the entire project development cycle – from project design to implementation to monitoring and evaluation – to ensure relevance, accessibility, and sustainability of each project intervention. In agricultural projects, gender considerations all along the value chain from inputs to consumption. Gender integration is the key word.

Understand that inclusion exists and evolves along a continuum

Inclusion is rarely an all-or-nothing proposition. Rather, it usually evolves along a continuum that ranges from exclusion, to neglect, through to neutrality and awareness, and finally, full inclusion. It is therefore critical to assess the existing situation – constraints to and opportunities for inclusion – and proceed from there, at times promoting incremental change, at others taking advantage of opportunities to shift perceptions more deeply. Focusing on the small and achievable wins can also build motivation and momentum for project staff and stakeholders.

Local partners are vital to gauging the appropriateness of your approach

Understanding gender dynamics in a given context is critical to successful, sustainable, and inclusive impacts that women and men see as benefiting the entire household, their community, and the society as a whole. By using gendered tools and techniques such as differentiated curriculum designed just for men, women or for mixed groups, implementers can develop an understanding of the unique gender dynamics for each project.

Local partners can ensure the selected approach is appropriate, realistic, and achievable. By jointly applying a gender lens, implementers and local partners can collaboratively design a set of practical actions to confront, accommodate, or bypass gender constraints and, in doing so, contribute to enhanced economic outcomes for women and girls.

Document and share whatever is learned from your project

Capturing, disseminating, and supporting the application of relevant information, lessons learned, and best practice on gender-inclusive approaches in economic growth programming is important in advancing the field. All learning and knowledge exchange should aim to provide actionable and practical how-to solutions and facilitate partnerships for future programs and policies.

Michelle Frain-Muldoon is director of technical services and Anne Greteman is an associate at Making Cents International. The 2014 Global Youth Economic Opportunities Summit convened by Making Cents International begins in Washington, DC today. Follow #YouthEO on Twitter.